(1Ti 1:18-20 ESV) This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, 19 holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith, 20 among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.
(2Ti 2:16-18 ESV) 16 But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, 17 and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, 18 who have swerved from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already happened. They are upsetting the faith of some.
That’s all we know, except that these false teachers had left the true faith, been disciplined in some sense by Paul, and appear to be lost for having taught that the resurrection has already happened.
What precisely is meant is unclear, but most infer a teaching that there was no future resurrection to look forward to (cf. 1 Cor 15:12). In this view, believers already shared in Christ’s resurrection, and nothing more need be achieved so far as salvation was concerned. They already had resurrection life and would not die (cf. John 11:26). If that is the case, we may further infer that Hymenaeus and Philetus set salvation and creation in antithesis (cf. 1 Tim 4:3), that salvation was seen as an escape from the body and from the material world, a denial that the created order would also participate in salvation (as Paul had taught, Rom 8:19–21). Whatever the precise teaching in view, the writer was convinced that in propounding it Hymenaeus and Philetus had “missed the mark, deviated from the truth” (ἀστοχέω astocheō; the same word as in 1 Tim 1:6; 6:21) and were “overturning, upsetting [as in Titus 1:11] the faith of some.”
James D.G. Dunn, “The Letters to Timothy and the Letter to Titus,” in 2 Corinthians-Philemon (vol. 11 of New Interpreters Bible, Accordance electronic ed. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2000), n.p.
Evidently, the false teaching was similar to the error Paul confronted in 1 Cor 15, in which Paul teaches a future, general, bodily resurrection. Most likely, because the Greeks especially found the idea of a bodily resurrection absurd, the error crept in that our baptism is the only resurrection that matters. The teaching would thus be similar to what the Sadducees taught — denying an afterlife and declaring that God’s blessings are received, if at all, in this life only.
But this, again, denies faith in God’s promises. It destroys hope. And it’s a damning error.
It doesn’t damn because it’s just one of millions of possible misunderstandings. It damns because it threatens the very heart of Christian teaching. After all, as we’ve already seen, the Kingdom won’t come in its fullness until the return of Jesus. Our salvation is measured in terms of how God will judge us when Jesus returns. And all this is tied to the idea of a general resurrection in which God’s people will be judged worthy and live in the new heavens and new earth forever.
Take away the general resurrection, then there’s no afterlife, there’s no inheritance for God’s people, there’s no fully realized Kingdom, there’s no hope. And, most importantly, we’ve concluded that God’s promises can’t be trusted.